Nutritional Quality of the Diets of US Public School Children and the Role of the School Meal Programs

Data collected for the third School Nutrition Dietary Assessment Study (SNDA-III) show the majority of school children in the United States have nutritionally adequate diets, but excessive intakes of saturated fat and sodium.

This report on SNDA-III used Dietary Reference Intakes and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005 to assess the nutritional quality of the diets of U.S. public schoolchildren. Researchers followed Institute of Medicine procedures to estimate the prevalence of inadequate and excessive usual intakes of macronutrients, vitamins, minerals, calcium, potassium, sodium and fiber. Standards used included Estimated Average Requirements (EAR) for most vitamins and minerals and Tolerable Upper Intake Levels (UI) for sodium. Propensity score matching enabled comparison of school meal program participants and nonparticipants.

Key Findings:

  • 15 percent of children showed inadequate intakes of magnesium, phosphorous, vitamin A, vitamin C, and vitamin E. Inadequacies were highest in the diets of female adolescents.
  • High school-aged children were more likely to consume excessive levels of saturated fat and insufficient levels of vitamins and minerals.
  • At the elementary school level mean energy intakes exceeded the Estimated Energy Requirement (EER). At the high school level energy intake falls short of EERs.

Data related to the intake of dietary supplements were not available.